Today we honor St. Catherine of Siena who at thirty-three passed away on this day in1380. She was a philosopher and a Theologian, and the amazing thing is that she earned those titles without having learned to read and write. Born in the year that the plague took 80,000 of Siena’s inhabitants, Catherine was the twenty-second of the twenty-five children of Giacomo and Lapa.
From age seven Catherine began troubling Lapa with accounts of conversations she had with Jesus. Lapa had been delighted with her Italian daughter’s blond tresses. In 1954 Phyllis McGinley wrote a poem about it.
Gossiping in Siena's square, the housewife, Lapa, used to say,
"My Catherine has yellow hair like the True Princess in the play.
Sure as it's June that follows May, Our Kate will be a belle.
The girl's a clever one, and gay, I plan for her to marry well."
At sixteen Catherine threw a monkey wrench into Lapa’s plans. She went off one afternoon, coming back a bald girl. Giacomo, proving to be a worthy father, stood up for his daughter’s right to seclude herself in prayer. Catherine came out of seclusion when she was twenty, and she gained a following of adults who valued the insights she was gaining through prayer. Even priests among her following were willing to take down letters Catherine was sending to rulers and to bishop’s. She succeeded in bringing Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome from Avignon to bring the Church’s schism to an end.
On Catherine’s feast day we also honor the fine Catherine’s we have been privileged to know. My mother, an only child, who was spoiled by aunts and uncles, raised six children in the church, while fixing meals as well for her mother-in-law and her husband’s sister. One Katherine who attends our daily Mass is beloved by her grandchildren on whom she spends her income. Another Catherine from our daily Mass has brought up her children to be fine parents. We have a Katherine who works with men and women in our jail, succeeding in getting them to finish high school.